Breaking Film Review - John Boyega
Photo Courtesy of Salmira Productions

In ReviewBreaking

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars – ‘Recommended’
Directed by Abi Damaris Corbin
Starring John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva
2022 | 1h 43min
In Theaters

Abi Damaris Corbin’s latest film, Breaking, had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where the actors won a Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast. During film festival showings, the movie was entitled 892.

This is an indie film telling a true story, and its hero will stay with you long after you watch the movie. Opening scenes in a public park, street musicians playing, pigeons being fed, sidewalk dancers, a walk through a homeless encampment under a freeway overpass — actor John Boyega inhabits the heart and mind of lance corporal Brian Brown-Easley, a California veteran whose life revolves around time spent with his young daughter.

When his case appeal gets lost in the Veterans Administration bureaucracy, Brian finds himself in a difficult situation. Deprived of funds rightfully his, he is in danger of losing the ability to support himself and even to buy minutes for his cell
phone. This phone is a lifeline to his daughter.

Brian ponders the situation and comes up with a solution born of desperation. He just needs someone to listen to him, to clean up the paperwork snafu, but the method he chooses for gaining attention has unintended consequences.

Brian smokes a cigarette, takes a deep breath, enters a bank and gives a note to the teller. He then takes hostages in the bank. Through dialogue and demeanor as well as interaction with frightened bank employees, actor John Boyega illustrates for us that Brian is a peaceful man, who tries to think through each barrier that flares up after he creates a bank robbery situation to gain attention and support for his cause.

Brian’s cause? Find a way to get the VA to give him the $892 he is owed. It is that simple for Brian, but his quest becomes impossibly complicated because of the way he chooses to gain notice. “I have a bomb,” he says to the bank teller.
Please go ahead and push the alarm button.”

WATCH: Breaking | Official Trailer

From that moment on, the action flashes back and forth between tense interactions in the bank – between Brian, the bank teller and the branch manager — and activities outside as the police department prepares for a “man with a bomb” scenario.

Corbin builds suspense gradually, so we experience the stoicism of this battle-scarred veteran, a man who knows he is in the right, and who fully expects to be able to reason with a police negotiator over the phone, when that person finally arrives on the line.

In one of his last film appearances, Michael K. Williams is Eli Bernard, the experienced hostage negotiator who shows up later than expected, and who has to contend with career cops who outrank him in the chain of command. Bernard
builds rapport with Brian over the phone; they both are combat vets and both have dealt with the VA bureaucracy. The negotiator is confident this conflict can be resolved peacefully.

Impatient with how long it takes the 9-1-1 operator to get the police negotiator on the phone, Brian calls a local television station for help and speaks with reporter Lisa Larson (Connie Britton). Their various conversations are interspersed with
images from Brian’s life with his daughter and his time as a marine in Iraq. We get to know him as the journalist gets to know him.

Besides the tug of war between the negotiator Eli Bernard and the police, there is the back and forth between Lisa Larson and her supervisors, as to whether media can be involved and how to relate to the earnest young veteran on the phone,
who says he has a bomb.

John Boyega embodies the troubled veteran — nonviolent, patient, wanting to take care of his daughter, needing so little but needing it without further delay.

Most frightening for Brian’s former wife is the sudden presence of FBI men at her door, who sit in her living room without speaking, as they wait for a status update from police. She hugs her small daughter and waits with fear on her face.

And the VA? Absent without leave; nowhere on the scene; lights are on but nobody’s home. The incident took place in 2017. At the time of the movie’s release to film festivals this year, the VA still had not resolved the matter of $892
wrongfully withheld from Brian’s pension.

John Boyega embodies the troubled veteran — nonviolent, patient, wanting to take care of his daughter, needing so little but needing it without further delay. The complexity and texture of interactions with the deeply frightened bank manager
and teller (Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva) convey a multiplicity of emotions and care – always care – to avoid disrespecting the two women. They “get” the justness of his cause, and he seems to understand their terror at the possibility of losing their lives.

When the 9-1-1 operator asks Brian what he is wearing, he realizes that snipers have arrived on the scene, so he orders the manager to close bank window drapes and to stay down. In other words, close the drapes to protect him and stay down to protect herself.

One man with a homemade bomb vs. police, SWAT teams, robots, sniff dogs and a helicopter. Brian hears the commotion outside but remains focused on his two objectives – protect the hostages and get the negotiator to contact the VA.

Superb performances from Boyega, Beharie, Leyva and Williams as the tension builds.

4 out of 5 stars

Jeanne Powell
Jeanne is a published poet and essayist. She holds degrees from Wayne State University and the University of San Francisco. Jeanne has taught in the CS, UB and OLLI programs at universities in the City. Her books in print include MY OWN SILENCE and WORD DANCING from Taurean Horn Press.